• Dr. Andrew Kitchenham

Essential Questions for Conflict Coaching - Part 3

Last week, I discussed three of Bungay Stanier’s (2016) seven essential questions and outlined how they can be applied to conflict coaching: the Focus Question for zeroing in on the problem for the client (rather than for others with whom the client interacts); the Foundation Question which helps the client understand and articulate wants rather than needs; and, the Lazy Question to find out what exactly the coach can do for the client. Each of these questions assist the coach and the client unpackaging the conflict situation. To remind you, the seven essential questions are: (1) The Kickstart Question; (2) The AWE Question; (3) The Focus Question; (4) The Foundation Question; (5) The Lazy Question; (6) The Strategic Question; and (7) The Learning Question. This week, I will discuss the last two: the Strategic Question and the Learning Question.


The Strategic Question brings the client back to the three Ps (project; people; patterns) by asking the simple question: if you are saying “Yes” to this (project/people/patterns) request, to which requests are you saying “No”?. In this manner, the client gets to the realization that if they do not agree to something that is asked of them, then the worst-case scenario is usually something that can be handled. Often clients in conflict situations are there because they truly believed that they were pushed into the situation or because no one else would or could do what is asked. This reality check helps them to decide under what circumstances they should say “yes” rather than agreeing to do something that is not really a true interest. Corollaries also include helping them to stay curious in what they like to do or would like to accomplish and to keep them away from or off the Drama Triangle as a Hero or Victim. Here is how a typical session would look:


Coach: Let’s chat about what has been bugging you. You alluded to it in our last session.


Client: I am really stretched right now with all the “extracurricular work” I am doing. I just can’t turn down anything.


Coach: Tell me about this “extracurricular work”.


Client: What I mean is that I have my assigned work on the project and everyone else has their assigned work but they don’t move at my pace so they are behind and I pull up the slack. I’m doing the work of three different people!


Coach: If you said “no” to the others’ work, what would be the stress points? If you said yes, what or who would be missing out?


In other words, by asking the essence of whether the universe would collapse if the client did not do something, the client gets a reality check on what the actual, versus the perceived, fallout would be. Often it is not as horrific as the client believes, of course.


Lastly, the Learning Question allows both client and coach to have a reality check or an informal assessment of how the coaching sessions went by simply asking “what was most useful for you?”. In other words, by asking the question, the coach is getting to the core of the sessions and asking bluntly for a genuine answer and is clearly curious each and every time for what comes from the client. For instance, a session might go:


Client: I have really learned a lot in our sessions together and I appreciate how much you have helped me with my workplace problems.


Coach: Thank you and I have enjoyed working with you. If I may, I am curious as to what was useful for you after you think back to our eight coaching sessions together.


Client: I learned a ton and would be hard pressed to say them all.


Coach: Tell me three then that would show your learning between the two of us.


Bangay Stanier argues that this question has six advantages for both coach and client: (1) embedded in the question is the notion that the sessions were useful to the client and helps both coach and client to get to the actual useful elements; (2) the actual big ideas can be unpacked and since each client is unique, those ideas are not always predictable; (3) the question makes it personal to the client so that they can really explore how and why the elements were useful to them; (4) the feedback given by the client is useful to the coach for future sessions with this client and with other clients; (5) the answer to the question outlines the learning process for the client and coach and is not a judgement of the coach’s abilities; and, (6) the responses to the question remind the client how useful the coach has been and how useful the client is to the coach.


In summary, these two questions help the client and the coach unpack the conflict narrative and, by providing honest and open answers to the poignant questions, the coach can assist with strategies to be used in the conflict environment. All of these questions need not be addressed in a given coaching session (and usually are not addressed in one session) but they serve as a guide for the coaching experience. I modify them and use them as ways to discuss the issues that the client brings forward. I also invite the client to try one or two on their own and let me know how they worked.


For further reading, I would highly recommend:


Bungay Stanier, M. (2016). The coaching habit: Say less, ask more & change the way you lead forever. Toronto, ON: Box of Crayons Press.


Knight, J. (2007). Instructional coaching: A partnership to improving instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.


#ConflictCoach, #Coaching, #EssentialQuestions

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